By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok
Last month I attended the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, thanks to a generous Tribute Fund Scholarship. I soaked up info from keynote speeches, panel discussions, break-out sessions, intensives, a manuscript critique, and socials, and talked up translation and the SCBWI Japan Translation Group.
Children’s Book People Everywhere!
This conference was a meet-up of 1,235 children’s book people at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Los Angeles.
The first person I met was my roommate, illustrator and fellow Tribute Fund recipient Marsha Riti of Austin, Texas. This piece of hers shows how excited I felt!
I soon also met up with friends whom I see too rarely in Asia, beginning with SCBWI Japan Regional Advisor Holly Thompson.
One of many delights of SCBWI LA was the International Social for members of all non-US regions worldwide. Special thanks to International Regional Advisor Chairperson Kathleen Ahrens of Hong Kong, Assistant International Advisor Angela Cerrito of Germany, and International Awards and Publications Coordinator Christopher Cheng of Australia. It was a bonus delight to connect with Kenneth Quek of Singapore, Director of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content!
Oodles of Opportunities
I met few translators in LA. 😦 On the upside, I found many chances to study craft and ask how to publish more translations. To quote my bit of SCBWI Japan’s blog coverage, I valued . . .
Chances to improve my work: I took part in a one-on-one manuscript critique with SCBWI President Stephen Mooser, who has authored more than 60 children’s books. He reviewed the first ten pages of my middle grade novel translation as writing in English, providing feedback on how I could improve my language. I also took a half-day intensive on novel revision with Linda Sue Park, a Newbery Award-winning author. From her I learned several ways to make a completed draft “strange” to myself, in order to spot where to streamline the language. Every segment of her intensive applied both to writing and to translation.
Opportunities to ask editors how they acquire translations: I attended break-out sessions by Alessandra Balzer, co-publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books; Mary Lee Donovan, editorial director at Candlewick Press; Dinah Stevenson, publisher of Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; and Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. Each of these editors fielded a question about how/whether she considers works in translation and how these might be submitted. So did Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., and Andrea Welch, senior editor at Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Andrea’s half-day intensive on picture books exposed me to numerous new ideas, and again applied 100 percent to translations.
Time to network with members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign: The We Need Diverse Books campaign took the US children’s lit world by storm in May, showing the need for main characters of color and of diverse cultural backgrounds (among many kinds of diversity). Since translations are a source of diversity, I was thrilled to talk with authors Lamar Giles and Meg Medina, leaders in the We Need Diverse Books initiative. I also hung out at a We Need Diverse Books lunchtime chat and heard a panel by Lamar Giles, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, authors Sharon Flake and Suzanne Morgan Williams, and agent Adriana Dominguez. Their discussion galvanized me to bring more books from overseas to young readers. Kids deserve to explore stories from their whole world!
US Children’s Publishing in Microcosm
SCBWI LA was my best glimpse to date of the US children’s publishing world. This was partly due to “state of the industry” keynotes that detailed trends in the US market—noting, for example, that picture books are aiming younger as chapter books take off, or that contemporary realistic YA fiction still has a place, or that literary MG novels are in demand. (Hooray!)
I heard these updates and more in presentations by Justin Chanda, vice president and publisher of three Simon & Schuster children’s imprints, and Deborah Halverson, editor of SCBWI’s detailed and ever-evolving Market Survey. While neither of these speakers mentioned translations, both spoke to the need for diverse books and provided big-picture info useful to translators.
I also got an overview by looking around in the socials and sessions at this large conference, and seeing how many US authors there are. This conference was larger than one small town I lived in as a child! I learned that lots of people are creating content for US readers in English. Their work for the highly competitive US market sets the standard for translations from overseas, as well.
Finally, insofar as SCBWI itself represents US children’s publishing, I found reasons to take heart: SCBWI has established a new Translator category for members! In addition, an Advisory Board meeting after SCBWI LA included a discussion of initiatives to support translation. I see these as encouraging signs.
Meanwhile, stocked with info from LA plus the fuel of renewed and new friendships, I am ready to return to work!
P.S. When I got home, my daughters pored over picture books I had bought in LA and claimed illustrators’ postcards to use for crafts. It was a treat to watch creators’ efforts feed hours of play!
For even more info on the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference, click here for the official blog coverage and recaps.